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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON BURUNDI

19 September 2017

The Human Rights Council in a midday meeting held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

Fatsah Ouguergouz, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, reminded that serious and wide-ranging human rights abuses had been committed in Burundi since April 2015, including extrajudicial killings. Most victims were opponents of the Government of Burundi, and not necessarily singled out for other reasons such as ethnicity. However, victims had said that ethnic insults had been recorded against Tutsis, especially during episodes of sexual violence. Serious violations had continued to take place in 2017 and the Commission continued to receive reports of torture to this day. Meanwhile, information on atrocities committed by armed opposition groups was difficult to obtain because the Government of Burundi had denied the Commission access to the country.

Speaking as the concerned country, Burundi said that the report of the Commission of Inquiry had no added value for Burundi. It was clear that the Commission had adopted a politicized attitude accusing the Government of having committed crimes against humanity. The United Nations Special Procedure mandate holders were required to abide by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation. The Commission of Inquiry had not kept these values; it had rather resorted to double standards. Burundi was not a rogue State, even though some States wanted it to become a phantom State. The Government of Burundi reaffirmed that peace and security reigned in the entire country and the population, and it categorically rejected the report of the Commission of Inquiry.

The Independent National Commission on Human Rights in Burundi also spoke.

During the interactive discussion, delegations regretted that Burundi had not cooperated with the Commission of Inquiry, whose conclusions were extremely serious. The majority of the documented violations had been committed by members of the national intelligence, police and army, as well as by Imbonerakure. They were appalled by the gravity and scale of human rights violations and abuses, and commended the Commission’s call to the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into crimes against humanity committed in Burundi as soon as possible. Delegations noted that impunity continued to reign in Burundi, leading to a climate of fear and hate speech. On the other hand, some speakers noted the highly politicised nature of the discussion on Burundi, and confirmed their position that human rights issues had to be examined in a purely constructive manner, with the full participation of the concerned country. As a member of the Council, Burundi had an obligation to uphold the highest standards of human rights, and to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms. The Council should call on the General Assembly to suspend Burundi’s membership.

Speaking in the interactive discussion were European Union, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Russian Federation, Canada, Germany, Greece, Sudan, France, Denmark, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Czech Republic, Albania, Estonia, Spain, United States of America, Austria, China, Portugal, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Mexico, Luxembourg, Rwanda, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Iran, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Venezuela and United Kingdom.

The following national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) (in a joint statement), International Service for Human Rights, Centre indépendant de recherches et d'initiatives pour le Dialogue CIRID, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (in a joint statement), International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, and International-Lawyers.Org.

This afternoon, the Council will hold a general debate on human rights situations that required the Council’s attention.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (A/HRC/36/54).

Presentation of Report by the Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

FATSAH OUGUERGOUZ, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, was pleased to present the Commission’s conclusions and noted that it was careful to corroborate the statements it had obtained. Serious and wide-ranging human rights abuses had been committed in Burundi since April 2015, including extrajudicial killings. Most victims were opponents of the Government of Burundi, and not necessarily singled out for other reasons such as ethnicity. However, victims had said that ethnic insults had been recorded against Tutsis, especially during episodes of sexual violence. The defence and security forces who were responsible were often uniformed and armed. In one episode people were shot in the head point blank after being told to lie on the ground and look at the sky. A tortured witness told of having heavy bottles of water tied to his testicles. Serious violations had continued to take place in 2017 and the Commission continued to receive reports of torture to this day. Meanwhile, information on atrocities committed by armed opposition groups was difficult to obtain because the Government of Burundi had denied the Commission access to the country.

In conclusion, Mr. Ouguergouz said the Commission had grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in Burundi. Hate speech at levels of authority and the suppression of opposition and dissent had been recorded. A list of cases had been handed to the High Commissioner for Human Rights for it to consider pursuing them, but this list had been left out of the current report in the interest of protecting victims. The chain of command that organized these atrocities showed that alleged perpetrators were at large at all levels and had rarely been held accountable. The Commission recommended that the International Criminal Court open an investigation into these alleged crimes. From the beginning of its mandate the Commission had sought the cooperation of Burundi’s authorities but regretted that this was not forthcoming. Also regretted was the attempts by the authorities to discredit the Commission’s work, particularly since it was these authorities that had denied the Commission access to the country. However, the Commission had been able to receive hundreds of testimonies and compile a comprehensive account of alleged serious human rights abuses in Burundi.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, said it took note of the report of the Commission of Inquiry established by Human Rights Council resolution 33/24, which was contested by Burundi. The report had no added value for Burundi. It was clear that the Commission had adopted a politicized attitude, accusing the Government of having committed crimes against humanity, which put into question the credibility of the report. The Human Rights Council and mandate-holders under Special Procedures were required to abide by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation. The Commission of Inquiry had not kept these values, but rather, had resorted to double standards. Burundi was not a rogue State. Some States wanted it to become a phantom State - a State which disappeared. This report revealed this objective by its recommendation to a referral to the International Criminal Court.

Burundi had never stopped its cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms. It was not against fair and honest inquiries into human rights violations. The people of Burundi had memories of the violence that had occurred until 1994, however, the United Nations had remained silent on these crimes. Why was the United Nations only focusing on crimes committed from 2015? The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission was already in place and working, and the people of Burundi did not approve other mechanisms which would divide them. The Commission of Inquiry had chosen to have sympathy for the insurgents who had committed violent crimes which had been committed in front of cameras of the whole world. Burundi was outraged at the systematic rejection of the efforts made by the Government and asked the Human Rights Council to encourage these efforts. It deplored the hidden agenda of the Human Rights Council. Burundi reaffirmed that peace and security reigned in the entire country and the population. It categorically rejected the report of the Commission of Inquiry.

Independent National Human Rights Commission in Burundi considered the report as an invitation to dialogue. The Commission of Inquiry had not been able to enter Burundi and gather sufficient and reliable information. It should have taken into account the violence committed by all stakeholders. Referral to the International Criminal Court was not appropriate. The National Human Rights Commission in Burundi deplored the fact that the Commission of Inquiry refused to investigate violations by what they called armed opposition groups, by which grave violations had been committed. It also deplored the refusal to recognize the significant improvement in the situation and the attempt to disqualify other organizations working in Burundi. The National Human Rights Commission asked the Human Rights Council not to credit this kind of rhetoric. The national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights were up to the challenges faced by the country, and the International Criminal Court was not the appropriate solution. The National Commission urged the Human Rights Council and all stakeholders to place the emphasis on dialogue and to let the principles of impartiality prevail. The National Commission would not adopt the report but would consider it as an invitation to dialogue.

Interactive Dialogue

European Union regretted that Burundi had not cooperated with the Commission of Inquiry, whose conclusions were extremely serious. The majority of the documented violations had been committed by members of the national intelligence, police and army, as well as by Imbonerakure. Liechtenstein said it was appalled by the gravity and scale of human rights violations and abuses committed in Burundi since April 2015. It commended the Commission’s call to the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into crimes against humanity committed in Burundi as soon as possible. Iceland remained deeply concerned about the ongoing human rights violations in Burundi, and called on the Government to prosecute the perpetrators of such incidents. It commended a large number of neighbouring countries for their willingness to host refugees from Burundi.

Russian Federation noted the highly politicised nature of the discussion on Burundi, and confirmed its position that human rights issues had to be examined in a purely constructive manner, with the full participation of the concerned country. Canada stated that impunity continued to reign in Burundi, leading to a climate of fear and hate speech. The authorities continued to stand in the way of international mechanisms. How could stakeholders be included in a truth and reconciliation process grounded in the Arusha Accords? Germany deeply regretted that the Government of Burundi refused to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry. It called on Burundi to respect the status of the diplomatic staff in the country. How could the international community assist the Commission?

Greece regretted the lack of cooperation by Burundi in the work of the Commission and remained concerned about the situation of human rights in the country. It deplored the massive arrest of citizens, including children, and reiterated its support for an intra-Burundian political dialogue and the renewal of the Commission’s mandate. Sudan reasserted the need for a global look at the conflict in Burundi and urged that international attention be turned to the situation in order to assist the country at this time. France commended the Commission for its work and condemned reported repression and human rights abuses against opposition figures, human rights defenders and media representatives. It called on Burundi to cooperate with the Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and called for those responsible for the violence to be held accountable.

Denmark regretted the lack of progress on the situation since the Human Rights Council last met, and decried the increase in the level of violence. The space for political opposition appeared to be shrinking and Denmark was alarmed by the reports of torture and killings. Switzerland was alarmed that the episodes of violence reported by the Commission may amount to crimes against humanity and called for Burundi, as a member of the Human Rights Council, to cooperate fully with the Commission. It also requested further guidance on how it could provide technical assistance to Burundi in this context. Netherlands believed that the human rights crisis was connected to the unresolved political crisis. Therefore regional mediation and dialogue were crucial to ending the violence. The justice system in Burundi needed profound reform so that alleged perpetrators could be brought to account.

Belgium regretted the persistent human rights violations in Burundi, including arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearances, summary executions, the use of torture and sexual violence. How could alleged violations be documented in an objective fashion given that there was no cooperation with the authorities? Australia lamented the grave human rights violations perpetrated by Government authorities and proxies in Burundi. It encouraged the Government to engage in a constructive, inclusive and transparent dialogue across communities, and to cooperate with the international community. Czech Republic noted the deterioration of the situation in Burundi since April 2015 and the Government’s harassment of political opposition and civil society. It called on the Government to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry and to implement its urgent recommendations.

Albania deplored that Burundi was still refusing access to the Commission of Inquiry, and was deeply concerned about the lack of improvement of human rights in that country. The number of civilians leaving the country was increasing, and the lack of accountability and the climate of impunity were persistent. Estonia expressed grave concern about the arbitrary detention, sexual violence, torture, and repression of freedom of expression and assembly in Burundi, as well as the lack of independence of the judiciary. It called on the Government to cooperate with relevant international mechanisms. Spain said it was increasingly worried about the deteriorating human rights situation in Burundi, which was so serious that some abuses could amount to crimes against humanity. The fight against impunity was fundamental for settling the crisis in the country.

United States of America condemned the 13 September break-in of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ premises in Burundi and called for this event to be fully investigated. It was deeply concerned about reported violence committed by youth groups and others and called on all Burundians to reject all forms of violence. Austria was deeply concerned by the reports of violence and severe restrictions of fundamental freedoms such as freedoms of expression and assembly. It regretted Burundi’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. China called for national reconciliation and fruitful dialogue in Burundi and maintained that the Commission must fully respect the sovereignty of Burundi in these matters or it risked making the situation worse.

Portugal was deeply alarmed by the suggestion that crimes against humanity may have been committed in Burundi, and urged the Burundian authorities to conduct swift and urgent dialogue to end the crisis. It fully supported the renewal of the Commission’s mandate. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remained concerned by the politicisation of the Human Rights Committee through its granting of country-specific mandates and urged for a constructive dialogue with the Government of Burundi. It warned against interference in Burundi’s affairs in the guise of concerns for human rights. Mexico regretted the barriers put in the Commission’s way and was concerned about the reports of possible crimes against humanity. Although the reported violence had not been ethnically directed, Mexico was alarmed by reported increases in hate speech.

Luxembourg deplored the extreme violence which had cost the lives of so many Burundians. The persistence of summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and arrest, torture and sexual violence was of great concern. Rwanda remained deeply disturbed by the situation in Burundi where human rights violations could constitute crimes against humanity, mainly committed by security forces and militias affiliated with the ruling party. It was regrettable that the Government continued to externalise what was evidently a very serious internal domestic crisis. Hungary regretted that the Government of Burundi had refused any form of dialogue or cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry. It condemned every instance of hate speech made by Burundian authorities and leaders, and found worrisome that sexual violence was used as a weapon of war.

Ireland stated that it was clear that the citizens of Burundi were facing shocking violence. The erosion of the freedom of expression and assembly was also worrying, and Ireland urged the Government to prohibit any public involvement of Imbonerakure and to start a mediation process as soon as possible. Lithuania reiterated its support for the Commission’s mandate and urged the Government of Burundi to cooperate with the Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and to grant them unimpeded access throughout the territory. Iran opposed any use of politicisation, double standards and selectivity through the failed policy of naming and shaming. It expressed hope that the Council would choose a progressive and cooperative approach towards assisting Burundi to overcome its challenges.

Democratic Republic of the Congo was concerned about the situation in Burundi which had a direct impact on the security of the Congolese population. The Human Rights Council had to examine the human rights situation without selectivity. It was necessary to promote a climate of cooperation to come to an agreed solution rather than using the International Criminal Court as a tool for political purpose. Chad reaffirmed its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. It fully supported the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to improve the rule of law and the the judicial sector. Chad encouraged Burundi to make combatting impunity a priority and to bring justice to victims. Venezuela paid tribute to the Government of Burundi for its efforts to protect human rights. Venezuela recalled that it had voted against the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry which undermined the sovereignty of the country and led to high costs for the budget of the United Nations. The aim was to destabilize. Cooperation between sovereign States was the only way to promote human rights in the world. United Kingdom was concerned about evidence that crimes against humanity had been committed in Burundi. Excessive use of force, torture and extrajudicial executions had been carried out by the Burundian security forces. The Government had refused to engage to hold the perpetrators accountable. The Government of Burundi had a duty to protect the diplomatic staff in the country.

Remarks by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

FATSAH OUGUERGOUZ, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, responding to the allegations of politicisation and bias made by Burundi, said such statements were not compatible with the principles of dialogue and constructive cooperation. Mr. Ouguergouz said he could confirm all conclusions in the report. The words of Burundi aimed to discredit the work of the Commission and would not help the Government of Burundi and the people it represented. Mr. Ouguergouz clarified that he had never said those things that had been presented in Burundi’s statement. A draft amendment underway to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedural Code to authorise searches at night without a warrant clearly demonstrated that the security situation in Burundi was still alarming. The statement of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights in Burundi had only echoed the statement made by the Government of Burundi. The Commission of Inquiry had been given promises by the Government that all violations would be investigated. Mr. Ouguergouz once again called on the Government to provide the Commission with all the relevant information.

The Commission had no way to exert pressure on the Government of Burundi. The report was based on independent investigations and could be used by all State and non-State actors to help come to a settlement of the political crisis in Burundi. The Commission had shouldered its responsibility and it was now up to the international community to show its responsibility. The Government should immediately free all political prisoners, and prosecute the perpetrators of crimes and hate speech. As for helping civil society in Burundi, the international community could recall all legislation on the restriction on the freedom of expression and association.

FRANCOISE HAMPSON, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that if indeed peace and stability prevailed in the country, then why had hundreds of thousands of Burundians sought refuge outside the country? It was necessary for the Government of Burundi to implement the relevant treaties, rather than violate them. As for the investigation of crimes committed by non-State actors, the first problem was access and the second one was that those linked with the Government would hesitate to provide statements. With respect to the reform of the legal system in Burundi, the Commission had set out in detail the necessary reforms. Any form of dialogue should be as inclusive as possible, which was a difficulty at the moment. As for the follow-up in the General Assembly and the Security Council, anyone seeking to promote dialogue should seriously consider human rights and reanimate the involvement of the African Union.

Interactive Dialogue

Human Rights Watch said that as a member of the Council, Burundi had an obligation to uphold the highest standards of human rights, and to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms. The Council should call on the General Assembly to suspend Burundi’s membership to the Council. Amnesty International said serious human rights violations which might amount to crimes against humanity had been committed. The continued detention of human rights defenders was deeply concerning, as was the crackdown on independent human rights monitors; the Government of Burundi should put a stop to violations. International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture), in a joint statement with Track Impunity Always - TRIAL / Association suisse contre l'impunite; and World Organization Against Torture, said the persistence of grave violations of human rights in Burundi was deeply troubling. The Commission of Inquiry’s mandate should be extended, and cases should immediately be opened before the International Criminal Court.

International Service for Human Rights said the report had outlined grave and systematic violations of human rights, and there were restrictions on the right of freedom of association as well as the suspension of some non-governmental organizations. The Commission of Inquiry had been refused all access to the country, and the Council should suspend Burundi’s membership to the Council. Centre indépendant de recherches et d'initiatives pour le Dialogue CIRID regretted the biased nature of the Commission of Inquiry, and criticized the methodology used by the investigators, which did not hear both sides. The Commission of Inquiry was mistaken in saying that because the crimes were committed by people who were in uniform, they were committed by State actors. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, in a joint statement with CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, reiterated its concern at crimes against humanity being committed in utter impunity by State agents. Some of the human rights defenders who had remained had disappeared or been detained; the Human Rights Council was urged to renew the Commission of Inquiry’s mandate and to suspend Burundi’s membership.

International Federation for Human Rights Leagues outlined that since June 2017, 144 murders and 17 cases of sexual violence had been documented. Most human rights violations had been committed by the Burundian security forces without the perpetrators being held responsible. Violations were committed by the national intelligence service and the Imbonerakure. The Federation called on the Council to support the opening an investigation by the International Criminal Court. Interational-Lawyers.Org regretted the refusal of the Government to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry. It strongly supported the use of regional organizations to ensure the protection of human rights and encouraged cooperation with the Special Procedures. Could the Commission of Inquiry indicate what was the status of Burundi in the International Criminal Court and what would be the effect of the withdrawal of Burundi from the statute of Rome.

Concluding Remarks by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

FATSAH OUGUERGOUZ, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that Burundi had notified its intention to withdraw from the Rome statute. However, this had no effect on the actions committed by the authorities of Burundi before the notification. The International Criminal Court was still competent to investigate any acts that had been committed prior to the notification of withdrawal. Mr. Ouguergouz outlined that the principle of hearing both sides had been respected by the Commission. The Government of Burundi had been asked to provide information but none was delivered. Moreover, on the website of the Commission, an appeal for information had been launched for any actor that could help the Commission with information.

FRANCOISE HAMPSON, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that there was no information available on the attacks committed against the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bujumbura. Cooperation was in the interest of the Government of Burundi.

FATSAH OUGUERGOUZ, Chairperson of The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, affirmed that the Commission had always had an open hand policy. The parliamentary commission of Burundi had been invited to cooperate. The same appeal had been sent to the Government.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/17/134E